Famous Latter-day Saints

Top 12 Latter-day Saint NFL players of all time


Editor's note: This article originally ran on LDS Living in February 2018.

Last year, NFL fans witnessed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history as the New England Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit to the Atlanta Falcons, ultimately winning the game in overtime. 

This Sunday's Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots features three Mormons—with Latter-day Saint linebacker for the Patriots Kyle Van Noy the only one anticipated to take the field. As we gear up for the event, let's celebrate Mormons in football by looking back at the 12 best Latter-day Saint NFLers of all time, beginning with . . .

#12: Austin Collie

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Photo from CBS Sports

After being named an All-American during his junior season at BYU, wide receiver Austin Collie declared for the NFL draft. Selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round, Collie's impact was immediate. He and legendary quarterback Peyton Manning connected 60 times during his rookie year (including seven touchdown catches), and he was among the league's best rookie receivers. During his second season, he was beginning to establish himself as a Pro Bowl contender, catching eight touchdowns in nine games before going down with two brutal concussions. Though head injuries have plagued Collie's career, he didn't give up. He's since played for the New England Patriots, the San Francisco 49ers, and the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League.

► You may also like: Austin Collie: Pushing Toward Perfection

#11: Ziggy Ansah

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Photo from the Deseret News

After being baptized at age 18 by missionaries in Ghana, Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah came to Brigham Young University. He didn't make the basketball team, so he went out for track, where he ran the 200-meter dash in a blistering 21.89 seconds. Before long, the football coaches took notice. He joined the team without ever having played football before—he didn't even know how to put his pads on. Though learning the game was a process, Ansah was eventually selected 5th overall in the 2013 NFL draft and made a name for himself as a rookie for the Detroit Lions. Two seasons later, Ansah was named to his first Pro Bowl. 

#10: Scott Mitchell

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Photo from Sporting News

Long before his impressive stint on NBC's The Biggest Loser, Scott Mitchell had an even more impressive stint as a big winner in the NFL. After his college days at the University of Utah, Mitchell was selected in the 4th round of the NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins, where he played backup to Dan Marino. He wasn't a backup for long, though. Mitchell went on to have a 12-year career in the NFL, including several seasons as the starting quarterback for the Dolphins and the Detroit Lions. He set multiple passing records for the Lions before ending his career with the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals.

#9: Paul Kruger

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Photo from the Deseret News

In high school, Paul Kruger was one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Now he's in the NFL, wreaking havoc from the other side of the ball. A member of Utah's legendary 2004 squad, Kruger made the transition to defense in college and became a force at linebacker. He was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Baltimore Ravens. It was with the Ravens that Kruger became a household name among NFL fans, with several key plays in late-game scenarios and two critical sacks in Super Bowl XLVII. Kruger and the Ravens won that Super Bowl 34-31 over the San Francisco 49ers. He later played for the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, and now is currently a free agent.

#8: Danny White

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Photo from The Landry Hat

Current fans of the Dallas Cowboys probably know Danny White as the team's color commentator--but the old-timers will remember all the wins and playoff appearances White led the Cowboys to as their starting quarterback. He had a stellar college career at Arizona State, winning three Fiesta Bowls and being named as an All-American. Following in the tremendous footsteps of the great Roger Staubach, White led his team to several victories in the playoffs and was named to the 1982 Pro Bowl. He followed up his successful professional career by coaching in the Arena Football League, where he led teams to two championships and was named Coach of the Year.

#7: Brett Keisel

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Photo from Bleacher Report

As great as he was on the field, long-time Pittsburgh Steeler Brett Keisel will always be remembered for his legendary whiskers. His facial hair has its own Facebook page and Twitter feed and has inspired Steelers fans to simply refer to Keisel as "The Beard." However, his impact on Pittsburgh football was a lot bigger than that. After a successful college career at BYU (yes, he was clean-shaven as a Cougar), Keisel was selected in the 7th round of the 2002 NFL draft. He stayed with his team for 12 seasons, helping them win three AFC championships and two Super Bowls—XL and XLIII. Keisel was named to the Pro Bowl in 2010. 

#6: Chad Lewis

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Photo from NBC Philadelphia

Chad Lewis's mission to Taiwan ended up helping the NFL tremendously. After being undrafted out of BYU, Lewis was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, who were unaware that they'd just picked up the man who would become one of the most accomplished tight ends in franchise history. Lewis spent a year in St. Louis, where he won a Super Bowl with the Rams, then was shipped back to the Eagles. During his second stint in Philly, Lewis was named to three Pro Bowls. He also caught the game-clinching touchdown pass in the 2005 NFC championship game, which sent his Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX. In 2002, Lewis's mission experience and squeaky clean image prompted the NFL to send him to Taiwan to promote the league.

► You may also like: From Homeless Teen to RM and NFL First-Round Pick: How the Gospel Strengthens Garett Bolles

#5: Eric Weddle

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Photo from Fox Sports

Eric Weddle has a beard to rival Brett Keisel's and a defensive resume to rival anyone in the league's. Weddle, who converted to the Church in college, was a standout safety at the University of Utah. He was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 2007 NFL draft, and he now plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Widely considered to be one of the best safeties in the NFL, Weddle has been named to five Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams.

#4: Haloti Ngata

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Photo from NY Daily News

At 6'4" and 345 pounds, it's safe to say Haloti Ngata has struck fear into the heart of every offense he's ever faced. In high school, he was listed as the #2 overall prospect in the nation. He went on to become a consensus All-American at the University of Oregon and was drafted 12th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in 2006. It's only been uphill from there. Ngata has been ranked among the top 10 players in the league and has been named to five Pro Bowls. He led the Ravens to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII, but was traded to the Detroit Lions in 2015. Ngata comes from an athletic family that includes his distant cousin and NBA star, Jabari Parker.

► You may also like: "The First Thing I'll Do Is Pay My Tithe" NFL Quarterback Derek Carr Says of $125 Million Contract

#3: Todd Christensen

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Photo from USA Today

Todd Christensen was one of the best running backs in BYU history, starting all four years of his college career (1974-1977). His success led to him being drafted in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys. Christensen suffered an injury early in that season, but his career was far from over. He spent the bulk of his time in the NFL playing tight end for the Oakland Raiders and finished his career as the best tight end in team history. He helped lead the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories, was named to five Pro Bowls, and retired in 1988 to become a successful broadcaster. Sadly, Christensen passed away in 2013 at the age of 57.

#2: Merlin Olsen

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Photo from Rams on Demand

Merlin Olsen was perhaps best known for his iconic roles in television series like Little House on the Prarie and Father Murphy--but what many audiences didn't know was that he got his start making life absolutely miserable for the quarterbacks of the National Football League. A standout defensive tackle, Olsen was named to the Pro Bowl an NFL-record 14 consecutive times. He's a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame (he was an All-American at Utah State) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After his retirement, he became a well-known sportscaster who called four Super Bowls, and a television actor. Merlin Olsen passed away in 2010 at the age of 69.

#1: Steve Young

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Photo from ESPN

Few NFL fans will be surprised by this one. The great-great-grandson of Brother Brigham, Steve Young is, without question, the best Mormon to ever put on football pads. Shortly after a successful college career at BYU, Young took over the San Francisco 49ers from Joe Montana, who was at the time the best quarterback in NFL history. Young went on to fill Montana's shoes better than anyone expected, leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory. Destroying defenses with both his powerful arm and his quick legs, he was named to seven Pro Bowls, won the league's MVP award twice, and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXIX. Steve Young entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005, the single best running quarterback to ever play the game.

► You may also like: The Surprising Reason Steve Young Didn't Serve a Mission (and It Has Nothing to Do with Football)

The law of love—loving as God loves, seeking another’s healing, expecting nothing in return—is a simple principle with profound, life-changing implications. How can we live the law of love? Steve Young shares insights from his own multifaceted life as well as from others who are scientists, fellow Latter-day Saints, Anglican, atheist, Baptist, Catholic, Confucian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and secular people of wisdom, as well as from the scriptures. This practical book may shift your mindset to a more expansive worldview that just might change everything. Whether in football, work, church, or family, the law of love is undefeated.

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